19 August 2016
(Update from our partners CAABU with whom we take out British Parliamentary delegations to witness the situation in the West Bank)
A report this week said that the school in the Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar is reportedly facing demolition by the Israeli Government. A petition by a settler group to the Israeli High Court of Justice seeking to compel the Israeli Government to execute the demolition order on the school is under review. The State has requested for and has been granted an extension until the 23 August 2016.
The community of Khan al Ahmar has long faced threats of demolition. A sewage pipe to the settlement comes out of the ground right next to the school. It has been said that the school is in an unsafe and unhealthy location – one of the reasons to close it. The swings in the playground of the school were previously confiscated for ‘security reasons’.
There has been an alarming increase in the number of Palestinian structures demolished by Israel in 2016. According to figures from UNOCHA, by the start of August 2016, 614 Palestinian structures were demolished in the West Bank and 112 in East Jerusalem. The total for all of 2015 was 447 and 74 in East Jerusalem. This has meant that 919 Palestinians have been displaced in the West Bank as a result of Israel's home demolitions, and 101 in East Jerusalem. The number of demolitions and displaced peoples so far in 2016 has well surpassed the figures for the whole of 2015. For all of 2015, 564 were displaced in the West Bank, 72 in East Jerusalem. On average for the first seven months of 2016, 23 Palestinian-owned structures have been destroyed each week in the West Bank, and four in East Jerusalem. This included a significant rise in the demolitions of internationally/EU– funded projects and privately owned developmentswhich increased to an average of 165 per month, from an average of 50 during 2012-2015. An EU statement made in August 2016 said that the demolitions raised “legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.”
Home demolitions have been used by Israel as a means of creating space to expand settlements, discouraging Palestinians from living in Area C of the Occupied West Bank and as a form of collective punishment. From the very outset of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, it instituted a planning, development and construction policy whereby construction by Palestinians was restricted while Israeli settlements were allocated very extensive areas for establishment and expansion. As a result of these restrictive planning laws, many Palestinian structures – including homes, schools, water cisterns and farming infrastructure – are deemed to have been built illegally even though many pre-dated the occupation. They are therefore subject to demolition orders.
These demolition orders have increased over recent years. Israel’s High Court of Justice has refused to apply the absolute prohibition in customary international law against the collective punishment of civilians in occupied territory when ruling on petitions against punitive home demolitions. It claims that the demolitions could be justified as “proportionate”. In January 2015, the EU unanimously adopted a resolution opposing settlement-building in the occupied Palestinian territories. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, described the resolution as “a good and common basis for our common position and also our engagement in the Middle East peace process.”
Many of the home demolitions are carried out in strategic areas of the West Bank. Israel has always wanted to annex the Jordan Valley hence has attempted to push Palestinians out – home demolitions being one of the key tactics. Demolitions in and around Jerusalem are designed to ensure that Israel can take the entire city for itself and pressure the Palestinians to leave.
Of the 70km2 of the West Bank illegally annexed by Israel in 1967, 35% has been confiscated for settlement building, 30% is declared “green zones” on which it is forbidden to build, and only 13% is zoned for Palestinian building. The Jerusalem municipality estimates that accommodating natural growth amongst the Palestinian population (66,000 in 1967, now 390,000) would necessitate building 1,500 new housing units per year; just 14,000 housing units have been approved between 1967 and 2015. As a result, much construction goes ahead illegally, leaving Palestinians vulnerable to demolitions. The Israeli Civil Administration has been trying to force some 2,700 Palestinians living in dozens of shepherding communities in the Jordan Valley to leave the area, by such means as repeatedly demolishing their homes, evacuating them for short periods for military training in the area, and confiscating water tanks. According to figures released by CSAWGD, 70% of all demolitions in the West Bank between January and March 2014 occurred in the Jordan Valley.